Hit label Ian Charms started with founder making necklace for boyfriend

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – When Ms Lisa Sahakian and her partner upgraded to a new apartment in Los Angeles in 2021, it was not because the couple wanted a dishwasher or central air-conditioning. They desperately needed a spare room to store their ceramic beads and charms.

“It’s really an entire wall of beads,” Ms Sahakian, 27, said of the makeshift studio. “It’s crazy.”

On display are hundreds and hundreds of eccentric, off-kilter gems. The charms, which resemble the cartoonish style of emojis, cover the full spectrum of irreverent camp. There are teensy-tiny ceramics of hamburgers and miniature dachshunds and frozen margaritas strung together.

But these are not the charm bracelets and necklaces of elementary school. The necklaces fetch from US$160 (S$220) to US$250.

From this colour-soaked space, Ms Sahakian and her partner and co-founder Max Riddle, 27, run Ian Charms, an if-you-know-you-know accessories label that has been worn by celebrities, including singers Dua Lipa, Justin Bieber and The Kid Laroi.

The arrival of Ian Charms, which was introduced in August 2020, was perfectly timed. That is because what younger shoppers want to wear around their necks and wrists changed over the course of the pandemic.

The minimalist, dainty jewellery popularised by millennials a few years ago fell out of favour and statement pieces were in. Necklace-beading tutorials, a practice once reserved for summer camps and crafting classes, became popular on TikTok.

And Ian Charms capitalised on the trend.

Until late last year, multiple designs were released on a weekly basis and never restocked, ensuring that each piece felt unique and tied to the dizzying carousel called Internet culture. A chain could feature a charm that pulled inspiration from hit K-drama Squid Game (2021) one week and a viral Real Housewives reality-television franchise moment the next.

The company now releases new charms about every two weeks.

Ms Sahakian, who has no previous design experience, started the company with little more than a US$600 investment in beads.

Only two years in, and with no major outside funding, Ian Charms’ designs can now be found in Dover Street Market Beijing and Selfridges.

How does a 20-something start a jewellery label with little to no experience? “I wanted to get my boyfriend a chain,” Ms Sahakian said on a video call, speaking from the apartment that doubles as the Ian Charms headquarters.

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